As a child growing up in San Bernardino, Dr. Milton Clark’s weekly Saturday visits to the central library on Arrowhead to read started him on a path of academic achievement that culminated in his earning a Ph.D and a distinguished academic career as a faculty member for more than 30 years before retiring as the Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Studies at Cal State San Bernardino.
He has also returned his fondness for public libraries and their value in communities such as San Bernardino by serving on the San Bernardino Public Library (SBPL) Board of Trustees since 2005 and as its president since 2007. That time period marked a decade of the city’s economic challenges since the national economic crash of 2008 that culminated in San Bernardino filing for bankruptcy in 2012.
The economic challenges SBPL faced in that timespan resulted in several budget cuts which threatened the closure of the Howard Rowe, Dorothy Inghram and Paul Villaseñor Branch Libraries in 2009, 2012 and 2014.
Dr. Clark’s leadership and advocacy working with the other trustees has been instrumental in keeping those libraries open, according to San Bernardino Public Library Director Ed Erjavek. The members of the SBPL Board of Trustees are city residents who volunteer their time without compensation to administratively govern the library with the funding amount allocated by the Mayor and City Council.
His leadership and advocacy were honored earlier this month as he was named the Best California Library Trustee for outstanding service to a specific library system by the California Public Library Advocates (CPLA) during an awards dinner at the California Library Association’s annual conference in Riverside. CPLA seeks to strengthen California libraries through advocacy and education.
“Dr. Clark is most deserving of this honor since I doubt there’s a Library Board President in the country who has done as much in advocating for their library system in the last decade, “ said Erjavek, who nominated him for the award. “His leadership and passion for library service in San Bernardino have been instrumental in helping to preserve library service in this community. I tell people he is the finest Library Board President in America. He was the right man to lead the Library Board of Trustees during this last challenging decade in San Bernardino.”
“I’m not sure what motivates the other Board members, but my passion for this institution is deep rooted. I grew up in San Bernardino, and as a young child, I used to walk to the library on Saturday morning and lose myself among the stacks of books. Those visits to the library gave me a glimpse into a broader world than the one to which I was confined living in the de facto segregated city of San Bernardino,” Clark said, when reminiscing about his childhood in his acceptance speech. Among the dinner attendees were California State Librarian Greg Lucas, family and friends of Dr. Clark, and Board Vice President Carolyn Tillman and Secretary Val Lichtman. Dr. Tom Rennard is also a member of the Board.
“In part, because of the library, I went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in English at California State College, San Bernardino,” he continued. “I subsequently went on to earn a Master’s degree and then a Ph. D at UC Riverside. Because San Bernardino had a Public Library, the world of opportunity was opened up to me. It is my duty, my responsibility, and my honor to make that same amazing resource available to the citizens of my city, young and old.”
SBPL had an annual budget of almost $3 million and 31 full-time staff position in 2008 before the national economic crash but the budget had been reduced to a little over $1.7 million in 2014 when the library was facing a proposed cut of $1 million, which would have not only closed the branch libraries but even operations at the Feldheym Central Library might not have been possible with a budget cut of that size.
Thanks to the leadership and advocacy of Dr. Clark and the other library board members and an alternative budget proposal from Erjavek - the library was allocated almost $1.4 million of annual funding for FY 14-15 by the Mayor and Common Council which resulted in full-time staff being reduced to 10 and zero city dollars for books and library materials but at least the weekly 37 public service hours at Feldheym and the 20 weekly hours at each of the three branches were retained.
Erjavek wrote in his nomination: “He has volunteered his time waiting to speak (often for more hours sitting on hard plastic chairs than he would care to recall) to the city’s mayor and city council at many a budget meeting during the last 10 years to give a voice for the voiceless for the importance of library service in this community. Dr. Clark is keenly sensitive to continuing library service to the underserved and underprivileged who are many in this city and those who may not have the means to go to another library if their neighborhood branch closed.”